New Zealand have won each of their last five Tests against Sri Lanka. They haven’t been beaten at home by an Asian side in almost eight years.
Sri Lanka have just lost three Tests at home against England. They’ve just had their selectors suddenly swapped out for new ones, and their batting coach replaced mid-tour.
Look, all that doesn’t have to spell doom for this series. Just because New Zealand are in a white-hot vein of confidence following their momentous win in the UAE, and Sri Lanka are limping into the series having scraped through a practice match, that doesn’t mean the Tests here are a foregone conclusion. Does it?
There are lots of ways in which Sri Lanka could put up a competitive showing. I’ll tell you how. Angelo Mathews hit 128 not out off 177 balls in that warm-up, no? Yes, sure, it was against a decidedly modest local outfit. And fine, the batting order had already collapsed to 104 for 9 before he scored most of those runs. But if you look hard enough at that scorecard, and notice he made a century stand with the No. 11 batsman, you can see, can’t you, that he’s rediscovering his epic 2014 form? That knack of making runs when his team is – as they say in New Zealand – “totally munted”. Of course these are desperate last-ditch contributions, but you can sort of rely on them. Can’t you?
And the rest of the Sri Lanka batting order… well… opener Dimuth Karunaratne has a hundred in New Zealand, so he’s okay. Captain Dinesh Chandimal is solid enough and experienced enough. Yes, fine, Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella have barely played in this country, while Roshen Silva and Dhananjaya de Silva haven’t played Tests here at all. That’s fine, really. They are the future. You can feel it, that this is the tour. This is the series that they all collectively get their acts together. The series where they play like actual run-producing batsmen, instead of human irrigation channels, forever redirecting deliveries into the hands of the slips.
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Yes, they are facing Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, who have taken 252 wickets at home between them over the last five years. Fine, we’ll admit that these three represent one of the great batting challenges of world cricket at the moment. But the young Sri Lanka batsmen can get through it. They have the talent, no? At least that’s what their coaches tell us. All the time.
Sri Lanka’s own fast bowlers? Phwoar. You should have seen them in the West Indies, only… err… six months ago. Yes, everyone knows Kane Williamson averages over 55 at home, and roughly infinity against Sri Lanka. That BJ Watling averages 56.25 against them. That Henry Nicholls averages 63.57 for the year, with two hundreds to his name.
But have they ever faced down 145kph-plus Lahiru Kumara, who has, uhh, 40 wickets to his name? Or seam-and-swing purveyor Kasun Rajitha, who has played two Tests? Well, at the very least, they’ve definitely been decked before by Dushmantha Chameera, who took 9 for 115 in Hamilton in 2015, even if he has been injured or ineffective ever since. They could really turn it on, you know, these young Sri Lanka quicks. Or at least there is a parallel universe in which they blast New Zealand out.
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Fine, okay, on the surface this series looks a contest between a visiting side at a low ebb, and New Zealand team with a mighty home record, and a fistful of form. Yes, it looks like New Zealand are building towards something great – that in five years’ time it is conceivable they look back and claim to be the best Test team their country has ever produced. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, are veering repeatedly from competence to chaos.
But anything can happen in cricket. Sri Lanka seem to often conjure magic from upheaval, right? Players win tournaments when they are at war with their board, win historic series while administrators are changing coaches, and break records to spite the many critics. Isn’t that true?
This will be fine. Not an easy 2-0 to New Zealand. They are not going to waltz into the No. 2 ranking that easily. Sri Lanka have more fight than that.
It will definitely be competitive.
Please let it be competitive.
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